Chad Gracia's The Russian Woodpecker is a fascinating and important documentary chronicling eccentric artist, Fedor Alexandorich, a Ukranian man who was one of the millions of victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Investigating the mystery behind the disaster, Fedor begins to uncover a damning Cold War-era Soviet secret, one that feels even more relevant with the Ukrainian uprising taking place in Kiev. The Russian Woodpecker is a strange documentary which seems to be unclear as to what it intends, beginning simply as a document of a idiosyncratic, but brilliant artist only to transform into a powerful portrait of modern day Russia/Soviet Union, where intimidation, fear, and threats of violence are commonplace. The film's structure is quite idiosyncratic, much like its protagonist, but what Chad Gracia has created with The Russian Woodpecker is a truly unique account of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown while simultaneously delivering a powerful biographical film of a man who eventually comes face-to-face with the oppressive forces of Russia. Perhaps the greatest aspect of The Russian Woodpecker is how it documents fear and oppression, with the film becoming downright frightening in its back-half after Fedor discovers what he believes is the true cause of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The film documents how Fedor himself becomes intimidated by the secret police after they give him a visit, eventually beginning to question his own ideals as he succumbs to the fear and intimidation that was a mainstay of the Soviet Union's governing body. Contrasting Fedor personal exploration of Chernoybol with the 2014 Ukrainian uprising, The Russian Woodpecker completes its poignant portrait of the oppressive regime that still exists in the area, as Fedor even quips at one point "the Soviet Union is a creature we haven't beaten to death yet". Featuring a powerful conclusion that sees Fedor stand-up for his beliefs during the Ukrainian uprising, regardless of the threats of violence against those that speak out, Chad Gracia's The Russian Woodpecker and its main subject become one in the same, smart, eccentric, and heartbreaking.
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